USATourist News MagazineDecember 2003
In this issue:
If you are reading this anywhere in the USA your radio has been playing Christmas music for weeks, shops and homes are already decorated and shopping areas are crowded. If you are in the UK or anywhere in Europe and given to being a bit spontaneous this might just be the best year ever to come for shopping in the USA.
The current exchange rate really favors international visitors. The GB pound has been exchanging at around $1.70. The Euro has been running around $1.20. That means you get a lot more for your money than usual.
If you are in the New Orleans area be certain to check for stores that are part of the Tax-Free for international visitors network. Louisiana is one of the only places in the USA where you can get the sales tax returned.
If you are visiting the Smoky Mountains you can get bunches of bargains at Tanger Five Oaks Outlet Center. They have information for international visitors. One of the best things about this particular shopping area is the free trolley that makes it easy to tote lots of shopping around without straining yourself. Another plus is the range of outdoor activities for family members who don't shop.
Most travelers who come across the pond for a whirlwind shopping trip stick to the New York City area. In fact the British newspaper The Guardian recently ran an excellent travel article on New York Shopping.
The Rockefeller Center Christmas tree was lit on December the 3rd and remains illuminated each evening until January sixth. Macy's, Saks, and all the other large department stores already have unveiled their elaborate window displays.
Radio City Music Hall's annual Christmas Extravaganza featuring the high-kicking Rockettes, Marching Wooden Soldiers and a 140 plus cast of entertainers is in its 71st year. For many New Yorkers it's not the winter holiday season without this show which runs nightly until January 4, 2004. Ticket prices range from $36 to $119 and can be bought at New York area Ticketmaster outlets or the Radio City Music Hall box office on the Avenue of the Americas between 50th and 51st Street.
The Grand Central Terminal Holiday Fair is already in full swing and runs all the way until December 24. Hours of operation are Monday through Saturday from 10 AM until 8 PM and noon until 6 pm on Sunday. Over seventy artisans, crafts people and specialty retailers display their wares making this the place to go for unusual gifts. Even if you aren't shopping it's a fun place to have a look around. And if you are in the New York area over the holidays you'll want to go by Grand Central anyway for a peek at the amazing laser light shows. Every half hour between 11 AM and 9 PM a half hour show illuminates the Sky Ceiling of Grand Central. If you are around for a awhile checking out the Holiday Fair you'll notice that several different shows are on display so it's worth your time to check the ceiling more than once.
The Bronx Zoo's Holiday Lights are open every Friday, Saturday, and Sunday night through December 14th from 5:00 pm to 9:00 pm and nightly from December 15 through January 4, 2004 (closed the evenings of December 24 and 25.) Hundreds of thousands of lights and over 140 illuminated animal sculptures some of them animated, like the leaping frogs decorate the zoo. Paddington Bear and the BBC's Robbie the Reindeer, a fairytale princess and other stilt-walking entertainers from the Alice Farley Dance Company, will hang out with the Zoo's own Sammy Snowman, Blizzard the Polar Bear, Tasha Tiger, Tommy Turtle, and Penguin Pete. Live reindeer and camels, elephants, and reptilians are also part of this festive event. Admission is $10 for adults, $7 for children (ages 2-12) and seniors (65+); children under 2 years are free.
Over the recent Thanksgiving Day weekend, Florida had some uncharacteristically cool weather --- but as of the first day of December temperatures throughout the sunshine state were back up around 23 to 24 degrees Celsius so it's a great time to plan to book a stay in the sunshine state. Whenever you're heading for Florida be sure you check out our Florida Coupons for special discount offers you can print out right from your computer and use to get great savings. Whether it's Disney, winter sun, or golf, Florida remains many people's favorite vacation destination. Just be certain to keep in mind that even in the winter you'll need sunscreen. It really is possible to get a burn during the milder winter weather if you aren't careful.
New Year's Eve in the USA is one night when many locals book into a hotel in their home town for a romantic dinner, an evening of dancing and drinking, or just a special getaway. As most medium or larger cities have uptown celebrations a lot of people book a room to avoid driving after midnight. What that means is that travelers really need to plan in advance if they want a hotel almost anywhere in the USA over New Year's Eve.
It's really not the time to take a road trip and plan on booking hotels as you go. So, if your plans include being here at the end of the month have a look at our hotel booking service.
Sometimes nothing is better than spending the winter holiday season at home. And giving the gift of future travel is a wonderful way to extend the holiday spirit into the New Year. Lately I've been getting quite a bit of reader email asking for suggestions for spending some time in the USA beyond the much loved and familiar locations. So, if you are planning on giving your partner or family a trip to the states later on in the year here are some suggestions ---
Are you young or young-at-heart and interested in the luxe living nightlife sort of thing in a comfortable climate? Well, then Palm Springs, California will pamper you with emerald golf courses and exclusive shopping. The weather year-round is the community's biggest natural resource and it's got a lot glam going on.
While Las Vegas, Nevada and Sevierville, Tennessee are number one and two on the list of places people go to get married in the USA. You'll also find many romantic spots in Key West, Florida or while visiting California wine country.
German readers often write to ask where they can see Willie Nelson perform --- in December he'll be in venues all across the land including Nashville and Las Vegas. You can always check out Willie's website in German for updated tour information.
Because our own country is so huge few of us have traveled internationally. And most of us only speak our own language. However, that is changing just a bit as more immigrants from South America make the USA their home. You'll find signs in most grocery stores in Spanish as well as English throughout much of the country.
Many of us have not met international visitors so some of us can be a bit curious. We tend to be a very inquisitive and informal sort of people so don't be put off if we ask where you are from or ask how you like it here. If you like meeting folks as you travel and keeping in touch, you might want to bring some picture postcards of your hometown with you to give to new friends.
While we don't really have an equivalent of a British pub or a French café you will find us gathering in places that serve coffee some mornings and occasionally stopping in for a drink at a bar after work. Keep in mind in both settings that smoking is increasingly restricted in the USA and there may be no smoking area at all --- in both New York and California you can't smoke in buildings.
If you stay in a hotel that gets a bit of business travel you'll likely find chatty sorts in the hotel bar or lounge during the evening. We don't mean to be annoying - we just like to meet people.
Oh, and keep in mind that if you are traveling this month, we frequently wish everyone a "Merry Christmas."
I have to admit a bias here; I've never had a bad stay at a Marriott. Even in the mammoth Marriott in downtown Atlanta on a crowded convention weekend when the 1675 rooms all seemed to be booked I got incredible service from the staff. Maybe I have simply been lucky but this chain seems to do a great job of staffing their properties with efficient helpful people. Marriotts are not inexpensive hotels; expect to pay at least eighty dollars for a room at most properties and considerably more in locations like New York. (And do check our hotel search for Internet specials.)
What can you expect from this chain? Large well-equipped rooms with a workspace, room to spread out, and a large bath stocked with moderately nice toiletries. You can expect housekeeping to respond to requests for more towels or coffee promptly. The property will usually have a pool, health club, often a gift shop and usually both a bar with bar snacks and a restaurant. The food in Marriott restaurants tends to offer standard American fare and regional specialties depending on the location. Most airport location Marriotts offer complimentary airport transport.
While this chain is not all across the USA, it does have lots of locations. It's worth knowing about because it has a good salad bar with lots of choices and has several green vegetables available as side dishes as well as the standard potatoes and rice. If you are on the Atkins diet or a similar low-carb program you'll find that the menu is coded so that you can easily keep to your plan. These are also good places to stop by for a starter and a drink if you just want something to snack on. However, the big reason for this month's mention is that people sticking to either Atkins or a carb heavy veggie plan will both find what they want - and diners in the mood for decadence won't go hungry either.
Prices tend to be moderate with meals costing fewer than $20 per person.
Have a great holiday and come see us in 2004!
As always I love hearing from readers at MsTravel (email address no longer active) lately the volume of mail has meant that I am slow to answer but I'll get caught up soon.
You have received this e-mail because you have joined the USATourist mail list. If you no longer wish to receive this newsletter, please unsubscribe at www.usatourist.com/english/maillist/unsubscribe.html.
You can view previous issues of the USATourist News Magazine at www.usatourist.com/english/maillist/archive.